The Boy Illinois – “I refuse to change for the sake of being mainstream Rap”
He hails from the great city of Chicago and is one of many talented new wave of Chicago emcee to really reach new heights and make history. As the first African-American artist to ever perform at The Native American Music Awards; The Boy Illinois has generated enough momentum to get attention of the music biz kol’s (Key Opinion Leaders) like Sway Calloway and Wyclef Jean. The Boy Illinois sat down with us to discuss the release of his new mix tape “Jean Baptiste”, the importance of crafting original music, as well as Shaquille O’Neal’s role in shaping his career.
TWDG: For those who aren’t familiar with your work, can you tell them where you’re from and why you’re the next to blow?
The Boy Illinois: I’m from Chicago, Southside. I’m next to blow because I’m myself an individual that makes good music; Point, blank, period because at the end of the day that’s all that matters. Plus the ladies love me too, so that also helps.
TWDG: I got chance to listen to your new mix tape [Jean Baptiste] and it sounds like a complete album rather than a mix tape. What was the process like putting it together?
The Boy Illinois: I just really try to focus on creating original music. When I put a project together it takes a couple of months. I like do the scribing, getting all the lyrics together, get the songs down and memorize it to get the flow right. So when I hit the studio I’m prepared to go in there and do work.
So it’s me and my engineer stayed in a hot ass apartment all summer dog and we just laid this project down, but at the end of the day we knew we were doing this for a greater purpose.
No matter if we didn’t have a link card or scrape up some change for a blunt so we can get it. There’s a lot of hard work and dedication that went into this project. But I know I’m going to be big one day and all this is going to pay off.
TWDG: Who or what inspires the way you craft your sound as an artist?
The Boy Illinois: My pops was a singer. Growing he was always singing a lot of Al Jarreau, Earth Wind and Fire, and Sade. But really Al Jarreau is one of my favorite old school artists. I channel that smooth jazz into my music and that’s how my dad is. He’s a laid back cool dude. So like Al Jarreau, people like that really inspire my music.
TWDG: Compared to some of Chicago’s new wave of rappers connected to the drill-hop scene. Why is it that your music is complete different, what set’s you apart?
The Boy Illinois: I grew up around that area with all those drill artist, over at Eastside my grandma stays over there. Back in the day we were raised as a family. My grandma had 12 kids and her kids had kids so everybody grew up in that house.
But for me I think it was my pops really and I was fortunate to have him in my life. I was the type to be around certain things that was going on, but knew when to leave. I found myself in the right places a lot of the time. I’ve seen the same thing they do, but I try to give a different perspective. I try not to glorify that, instead build our knowledge to get up out of this negative space.
TWDG: Absolutely, that’s one of the things I hear your fans express about you how you teach through music. My question to you is how important is it to teach the youth as a young man yourself?
The Boy Illinois: It was Harry Belafonte who stated that “We’re the gatekeepers of truth as artist”. Especially now more than ever we [artist] influence the world especially with our culture. I feel if you’re going to put out something why not it is positive or at least try to teach a lesson. My pops is a real militant dude so that’s how I grew up.
TWDG: The first visual off Jean Baptiste “Ight” featuring Ebonique is dope cuz, but yo where can a playa cop that fresh two piece suit?
The Boy Illinois: Yo when I showed SWAY the video and he text me like “dude where did you get the suit from man” [laughing], but this is a good story. I was the first African-American to perform at The Native American Music Awards alongside Jana Mashonee. I had contact this company from London [Dente De Man] that made that suit to send me the suit for the award show.
Customs held the suit for a little longer than they were supposed to so they were like just use it for whatever for press, so aiight I figure I’ll wear it for my “Ight” video.
The last day I wore the suit I went to a strip club and everybody in the club, especially the strippers wanted to know where I got that suit from, so it was a hit!
TWDG: Because of how you portray yourself through your art as a fan it’s not that strange to see you wear a suit that way left field. Can you see yourself taking the fashion world a little more seriously in the future?
The Boy Illinois: A little bit, but my passion is music. I like looking good, but not as much as I like making music. If the time comes and the opportunity presents itself maybe, more than likely, we’ll see.
TWDG: Yea man the video has a great vibe, I like how you got a 1979 Benz 450SL with a Haitian flag tied to the grill. Can’t help ask about your connection to Haiti, are you Haitian?
The Boy Illinois: Yea man my pops is and I actually met Wyclef, me and him are cool (sic).
TWDG: That’s a great look; tell us about that, what was it like meeting wycelf?
The Boy Illinois: He treated me like family; he actually has a video coming out called “Hope and Pray” with young choppa and I’m in that video. I got linked up with wyclef through my man Booger who heard “The memoirs of Gilbert Gaston” cuz I base it on the film “Ghost of Cite Soleil”. They know some people in that documentary. So they linked up with me, he said man “you reppin’ that flag we’re going to hold you down”.
TWDG: I understand Shaquille O’Neal inspired to take rap seriously, is that true?
The Boy Illinois: Yeah dog! I’m big Penny Hardaway fan and I remember watching the Magic’s versus the Bulls game than that “Shaq Attack” commercial came on and I was like oh snap, I like this! I think that and in 5th grade “Make Em Say Uhh” (Master P) video was really big in my life.
The morning I saw that video and went to school we had a bathroom break in the morning. I can remember everybody talking about that video and I just saw the impact it had and I was like this music shit I love this.
TWDG: So what’s the meaning behind the Jean Baptiste, what inspired you to use it as a title?
The Boy Illinois: Jean Baptiste Point du Sable is the founding father of Chicago and he’s a Haitian as well, so everything connects Chicago and Haiti. A lot of people don’t know that a black man founded the city of Chicago, so that’s another thing with the teaching.
TWDG: So how can the people get in contact with you?
The Boy Illinois: [twitter] @theboyillinois, but the best way to reach me is through Google. It’s the best search engine in the world even though they track your information, but we’re not going to get into that.
TWDG Staff (@Wallydigitalgrp)